A week long visit in October to the glorious Napa Valley, California’s famous wine-growing region during Fall Harvest, or “Crush” as it’s commonly referred to, was an exhilarating time for me, as it is for everyone in the wine world. I had long hoped to experience this meticulous process firsthand and to soak up as much knowledge as my brain would allow, for six days straight. Past ventures to Napa had been during the summer months; while it is extremely beautiful that time of year and the trips were enlightening, I felt as if I was missing a piece of the proverbial puzzle.
While making the rounds in this celebrated corner of the world the second week of October, I sipped and savored more than my fair share of rousing whites, reds and even a handful of sparkling wines. I’m your typical Chardonnay girl, regardless of the weather, and my eyes were definitely opened to the endless possibilities of branching out beyond my white wine safety zone. I was impressed by a tangible passion radiating from each and every winemaker and wine guide we had the pleasure of meeting. It was a sensory overload that I could not resist.
Provenance Vineyards & Hewitt Vineyard
Instant charm and hospitality swept over us upon entering Provenance and Hewitt. Tasting Room Associate Cathy George gave us an in-depth tour of the winery, and our timing was good as workers were still sorting the grapes, prepping, barreling and taking them to the warehouse for incubation. We had the honor of meeting retiring winemaker Tom Rinaldi, wearing his trademark Hawaiian shirt, who is a bigger-than-life personality and one of the friendliest people on the planet. He was kind enough to share a tasting from his personal label, Midnight Wine Co. – a 2012 Petit Verdot “Box Cars.” Cathy carefully guided us through a superb tasting of Hewitt’s reds that knocked our socks off. In particular was their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, of which they made just 2,500 cases and which is not in distribution but is for wine members exclusively. Notable was the 2009 Cabernet, with its super cherry notes, and the 2011 Cabernet.
Trinchero Family Estates
We were met with a hot, sunny afternoon at Trinchero — you could not have asked for a better fall day. Barry Wiss, VP of Trade Relations at Trinchero who also serves as VP of the Society of Wine Educators, greeted us warmly along with National Account Manager for Hotels & Lodging Amanda Bevilacqua, who drove up from San Francisco. First of all, Barry Wiss is a wealth of knowledge and a grand storyteller. We were captivated as he explained the family history here, as the Trinchero family has been making wine in Napa Valley since 1948. They currently have a broad spectrum of brands ranging from Sutter Home to Folie à Deux and Joel Gott.
Following an intriguing tour of their wine caves, we found ourselves outside overlooking a gorgeous vineyard vista, with a dazzling array of wines to taste. Especially pleasing was the SeaGlass Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Barbara County, which offered exactly what you’d want in a fruit-forward, tropical style wine and had a clean, crisp acidity.
Also in the mix this afternoon was the 2009 Trinchero Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, from their Chicken Ranch vineyard in Rutherford. This well-balanced Cab displayed a medium ruby color with notes of black cherry and spice.
Amiable host Patrick Egan, director of Marketing, met us in The Tasting Room for an informative tour and started us off with Raymond’s delectable 2013 Chardonnay. Steps outside led us to the Theater of Nature – a two-acre plot of land that showcases Raymond’s impressive commitment to biodynamic farming practices, and is a terrific teaching tool for guests to experience hands-on examples of how the soil, the lunar cycle and many other factors all contribute to the delicate art of winemaking. Most impressive!
The winery mascot is a lovable French bulldog, aptly named Frenchie, whose image can be seen throughout the property. This handsome and oh, so photogenic pooch even boasts his own line of tasty wines. Plush
accommodations at Frenchie’s winery truly make Raymond a dog-friendly place where pooches of visitors can rest in shady comfort while their owners are busy touring and tasting.
At every turn we encountered eye-catching and chic spaces, all with modern twists, from The Crystal Cellar to the super luxe lounge, where we happily sipped JCB Collection wines created by Jean-Charles Boisset, proprietor of Boisset Family Estates and Raymond Vineyards. Most arresting of all, perhaps, is the lavish Red Room, where we had the exquisite opportunity to taste a plethora of full-bodied reds from their super efficient wine station. Patrick invited us to sample several reds from their private collection – not to be found on shelves.
Hanging out in The Red Room took the visual stimulation experience into fifth gear. Red velvet adorned the walls and furniture, with wall-to-wall leopard carpeting. Baccarat chandeliers provided the perfect mood lighting and cool fashion books were displayed. Even my favorite crooner of all time, Frank Sinatra, was singing in the background. They have a super stylish bar, card tables, pool table and a gorgeous dining room table upon which sat gigantic Baccarat crystal vases filled with fragrant white flowers. There simply cannot be a better place to throw a party, I was thinking to myself. Now, how can we make this happen?
Mostly cloudy skies with a light breeze and a threat of rain showers moving in framed this October afternoon, as we made our way up to Chappellet Vineyard, tucked away off Sage Canyon Road in St. Helena. A short walk through the luscious vineyards with Emily Papach, Master Sommelier, and David Francke brought us to a heavenly vista overlooking stunning Pritchard Hill, the setting for this family-owned winery that began in 1967 and where the majority of Chappellet grapes are grown. This 100-acre slice of wine country paradise is perched atop Napa Valley, where the rocky terrain and higher elevation of 1,800 feet allow for magnificent grapes to thrive, producing huge and complex reds in particular.
Our tasting began with Chappellet’s bright and sunny 2012 Signature Chardonnay, and then we quickly segued to some pretty magnificent reds via Emily’s portable wine pouch – brilliant!
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
Just off the Silverado Trail in Napa lies Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, where we had the immense pleasure of meeting with Anna Carminito, VIP trade coordinator at the recently opened FAY Outlook and Visitor’s Center. Overlooking their historic Fay and S.L.V. vineyards, the new structure is modern and sleek in its design by noted Barcelona architect Javier Barba.
Dating back to 1970, Stag’s Leap is perhaps best known for producing classically bold reds and gaining worldwide notoriety in 1976 at the Judgment in Paris, where its 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon won tops honors – besting French wines and stunning participants in the blind tasting. From that day forward, California wines were thrust into the international spotlight and the world knew it was possible to produce solid, rich wines from an area other than France.
Stag’s Leap portfolio of gutsy reds makes quite an impression. Anna led us through an educational tasting of the Fay Cabernet Sauvignon, S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon and a complex blend of grapes from both Fay and S.L.V. making up the velvety Cask 23. We savored their 2012 Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon over dinner later that evening, a gorgeous blend with small amounts of Merlot and Malbec to further tantalize one’s palate.
A tour of the caves and the Round Room revealed a particularly striking and cool environment, and a certain intrigue set in as we viewed the pendulum looming overhead in the center of the Round Room. Anna expertly explained it serves as the “beating heart” of the winery and is a thoughtful reminder of the passage of time as it pertains to the aging of wine. Profoundly moving!
Artfully crafted sparkling wines at Mumm Napa, located off the Silverado Trail, are just extraordinarily special and provided a bit of a welcome surprise of sorts for me. This early Friday morning we met up with Charles Rich from Mumm’s hospitality team at the Visitor’s Center for an in-depth and most informative tasting tour.
A wealth of knowledge, Charles explained the particulars of the soil and conditions preferred for growing the grapes that make up Mumm’s vast collection. We were further treated to an eye-opening education regarding how the bubbles are created and the special treatment required for a positive end result. A hands-on blending session was also a favorite for our small group, along with a stroll through Mumm’s Fine Art Photography Gallery, currently featuring photos by singer Graham Nash as well as the Ansel Adams Poetry of Light exhibit.
Outside, we relished a fairly extensive tasting of Mumm’s sparklers along with the usual accouterments, on the Oak Terrace overlooking picturesque vineyards and clear blue sky … it was like something out of a movie. Where to begin? There were so many favorites.
The DVX Cuvées make up their signature sparkling wine collection and the DVX 2007 is a “can’t miss” choice to liven up any gathering. From the Reserve Collection, we loved the Brut Reserve. The impressive list goes on: Blanc de Blancs 2010, the Brut Prestige and Brut Rosé, all crisp and refreshing.
Smiles abounded at our table as we sipped the sparkling reds — yes, sparkling reds — a revelation for me. The Cuvée M red and Sparkling Pinot Noir did a “happy dance” of sorts on my tongue, going down so easily I was instantly planning an elaborate dinner party in my head and thinking this is what I will serve to totally impress our guests.
They say bubbles make you happy and I couldn’t agree more. A return visit to Mumm Napa is on the agenda for my next Napa adventure in the spring of 2015.
“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”
—Mark Twain, American humorist and novelist
Calistoga’s lush and rolling landscape is certainly the perfect setting for stately Sterling Vineyards. A short trip on the solar-powered tram led us to the top of the hill and breathtaking views of the Napa Valley. Our first stop was for a glass of stellar Sterling Reserve Chardonnay, after which our enlightening walking tour commenced. We sampled several wines along the way before finding ourselves seated outside on the tranquil tasting patio, overlooking an enormous canopy of trees. Our cordial guide thoughtfully escorted us through the day’s special selections that included:
*2012 Cellar Club Unoaked Chardonnay
*2011 Cellar Club Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon
*2011 Winemaker’s Select Blend – 90 points Wine Spectator
*2013 Cellar Club Malvasia Bianca
William Hill Estate Winery
Spend a precious few minutes with Senior Wine Ambassador Christopher Read, and you’ll sense his passion and knowledge straight away for this dazzling 140-acre estate in the south valley not far from the Silverado Resort.
Cooler temperatures and an abundance of sunlight in this location allow for some fairly extraordinary growing conditions, yielding bold and intense reds.
Our tour of this impressive winery concluded at the arbor, where we enjoyed several wines, including a few of my favorite whites, along with a cheese and charcuterie plate. As we sat overlooking William Hill’s lush vineyard, a gentle breeze was blowing around in its path the most amazing display of flowers.
Particularly attractive was the richly intense Bench Blend Cabernet Sauvignon, along with the 2012 Tasting Room Collection Unfiltered Chardonnay, which displayed a perfect balance of oak and citrus. Another standout from the Napa Valley Collection was the 2007 North Valley Chardonnay with its buttery, oaky and bright personality – just my kind of white wine to savor with friends.
A large group would be gathering here shortly, directly next to the vineyard, for wine, hors d’oeuvres and dinner under the stars. Entertainment for the evening was the well-known 1970s’ bands Ambrosia and Orleans, who were in the middle of sound checks during our visit. We simply did not want to leave! It’s hard to imagine a mellower Saturday night.
We have a quote written on a wine barrel stave in our wine cellar at home in Georgia that reads, “Friendship, like Wine ~ Flows from the Heart.”
With every adventure to Napa Valley, we collect special memories and stories while making new friends. We look forward to our next journey, more new friends and catching up with the old, in 2015.